Article Review: History and/through Oral Narratives: Relocating Women of the 1971 War of Bangladesh
Updated: May 24, 2022
Visual by Karen Coelho
Sanjib Kr. Biswas in History and/through Oral Narratives: Relocating Women of the 1971 War of Bangladesh in Neelima Ibrahim's A War Heroine, I speak, highlighted the importance of oral narratives as one of the ways to revisit history from the perspective of women, talked about the work done by Neelima Ibrahim Aami Birangana Balchi, that first published in Bengali 1994 and then translated in English as A war Heroine, I speak by Fayeza Hasanat. For Author, it is "one of the own kind that addressed victimization and survival of the birangana, revolutionary and Feminist revisiting of history."
Author starts the essay by talking about how in the postmodern era, there was much emphasis on the oral narratives to tell the untold stories of history "since the historical representation of war narratives are mostly gendered and biased thus these narratives give a perspective of women of
wars like 1971 war Bangladesh, the Sri Lankan civil war 1983-2009, Kashmir insurgency 1989 present, and on the other hand it also gives vision of pain, suffering, prejudice of their own version." Author also talks about many stories that have been written in Ibrahim's work and quotes Reena from the book, "I know for sure that history has made it impossible for them to
know of my existence."
Author talks about how oral narratives are essential since they "challenge biased historical narratives,'' and also spoke about how during the wars, there is "conveniently overlooked women's participation and their victimization in war." Author talked about how in the Bangladeshi war of 1971, Muktibahini did get recognition by society, state government, but "The narrative of rape woman women fighters was largely ignored in the state-sponsored histographies of Bangladesh." Author highlighted how even at the international platforms like the international criminal tribunal established in 1993 prominently to highlight how women were victims during the wars remained silent about the women of Bangladesh during the liberation war of 1971. The article also talks about that how to honor women (rape/violence victims). The word Birangana was coined by the then prime minister Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to "acknowledge their contribution in the freedom struggle."
The article also vaguely talks about the importance of "democratization of literature" and "Compartmentalized lifestyle of women during wartime." Author also cite many other books such as Nayanika Mukherjee's The Spectral Wound; Sexual violence, public memory, and the Bangladesh war 1971 (2015), Yasmeen Saikia's Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 (2011) and Sharmila Bose's Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War (2011) which mostly cited Ibrahim work. The article also highlighted that the warzone never ended for these women who faced violence is during the war, and even after the war ended, these women continued to face brutalities.
Additionally, their voices were silenced and marginalized in "state-sponsored historiographies." These women, rather than seen as heroines of the war, were referred to as khota. Citing literature by Neelima Ibrahim, Nayanika Mukherjee, Yasmeen Saikia, Tahmima Anam talked about even after the struggle ended the kind of continuous brutality they face, they had no option left other than migration, suicide or continue with the ongoing psychological, physical torture. While talking to women Ibrahim observed many rape victims move to Pakistan with their perpetrator since "home was not a place for a woman whose body was used by hundreds of men."
In the concluding remarks, Author about Neelima's work says "to the ransformation of the rape victim into the courageous women, social worker and unacknowledged heroes of the nation, despite being rape victimized, discriminated against, displaced and threatened."
The article does not give any clarity regarding the connection of women their victimization "rape as weapon and an inevitable by-product of battle, war as gendered." The article also does not talk about why rape is so much important from the perspective of War and gender, the 'Booty principle,' that emphasize that how "enemies women become part of a spoilt surrendered by the defendant and conclude territory as a message of humiliation send to women to men reminding them of their failure to protect the former and to promote soldierly solidarity through main bonding," could have been talked about in this regard.
Also, the article majorly focused on rape and not the exclusion, humiliation, and ostracisation women face violence during the war as 'Second rape.' It does not question/challenge why Birangana has remained silent for decades, "whether it is an act of agency or compulsion?"
The article does talk about the context of the word Birangana. Still, it fails to talk about how there was a lot of social convent support program started for women to generate incomes and started campaigns to "encourage Bangladeshi men to come forward and marry rape victims."
Nowhere in the article has it been mentioned that many women declined to accept the titles in fear of stigmatization, ostracization, and so on. Even the word Birangona was pronounced as Barangona, meaning prostitute in Bengali. The words, it's context and importance in the life of Birangana like Lancchita, meaning "disgraced, harassed, insulted, persecuted, stained, tarnished, spotted and soiled" or another word Nirjatita meaning repressed, Biddhosto meaning "ruined, destroyed, demolished, fallen to pieces, annihilated," or Bibhranto, meaning "confused, misguided, erroneous, wrong, blundering." are missing in the article. The article, despite emphasizing the importance of Birangana, only portrait women "as a victim rather than heroines the presentation of the victim in stereotype image of women and feminine and what heroines absence from all of it" as Kajalie Shereen Islam in Breaking down the Birongana: examine the (divided) media discourse on the war heroines of Bangladesh Independence movement, says.
1. Biswas, Sanjib Kr, and Priyanka Tripathi. "History and/through Oral Narratives: Relocating Women of the 1971 War of Bangladesh in Neelima Ibrahim’s A War Heroine, I Speak." Journal of International Women's Studies 20.7 (2019): 154-164
2. Islam, Shereen, Kajalie. "Breaking down the Birongana: examine the (divided) media discourse on the war heroines of Bangladesh Independence movement." International Journal of Communication (2012): 2131–2148
Rinku Kumari Dalit-Dusadh Feminist, Student of women's studies at TISS, Mumbai campus, Artist of Godna Mithila Art, Hindi Poet, Researcher and Content and Creative Writer. Currently working as Multimedia Journalist Intern at Dalit Desk, Editorial writer in TPP.